Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night concludes the official Twelve Days of Christmas and was traditionally the time that we removed the Christmas decorations growing up. My mom said that it was unlucky to remove the decorations before then or to leave them up after, and I still abide by this practice personally - old habits die hard. It also marks the coming of the Epiphany, meaning literally appearance, a Christian feast day and the day that we celebrate the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God, or the revelation of God made man in the person of Jesus.

While Twelfth Night is defined most often as being on January 6th, it is actually the evening before Twelfth Day marking Epiphany, meaning Twelfth Night. The end of all of the Christmas festivities actually occurs on the evening of January 5th at sunset. Twelfth Night comes before Twelfth Day.

Twelfth Night also marks the beginning of Carnival, and the countdown to Mardi Gras Day - declaring the official Mardi Gras season to have begun. Mardi Gras season is actually much longer in New Orleans as the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day are filled with a multitude of parades. If you live in New Orleans as I did, you better know what parades take place when and know your parade routes if you needed to get anywhere! While we don't start quite that early here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, no matter how you look at it, it's always a party down south and where ever there's a party, you know you know there's good food to go right along with it. Keep your eyes peeled for some yummy Mardi Gras foods over at Deep South Dish.

Most folks associate Mardi Gras in the U.S. with the wild debauchery that occurs in New Orleans where women routinely expose their breasts to get the more so-called prized beads...though I have never understood this practice.

Well, in truth, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the Coastal South - though in a much more family friendly manner outside of New Orleans. Mardi Gras parades actually originated with our neighbors to the east in Mobile, Alabama, who celebrated their first Mardi Gras parade in 1703, well before New Orleans held their first parade, though some in New Orleans dispute this as being representative of carnival and still claim the title.

For us, here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Carnival Season starts later, somewhere near the end of January, and will end on Fat Tuesday (which is what the word Mardi Gras actually means), the Tuesday before Lent, which is Mardi Gras Day down here. Carnival is sort of thought of as the last opportunity for merrymaking and indulgence in food and drink, and a time to throw caution to the wind (within reason) before the period of abstinence for the upcoming 40 days of Lent before Easter. Mardi Gras is marked by several weeks of pageants, elaborate masked balls, spectacular costumes, and weeks of parades featuring floats and people dancing and partying in the streets. And yes, like it is in New Orleans and in Mobile, Mardi Gras is a very big deal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Though Hurricane Katrina put a damper in things and I've lost count, there are about 22 parades across the Mississippi Coast within the carnival period, some small, some large. Traditionally, Ocean Springs kicks off the first parade on the first Saturday in February. Biloxi and Gulfport both host big parade events on Mardi Gras Day. Each parade is hosted by a different carnival association, carnival krewe, or other group, many of whom also hold large masked balls complete with a king, queen and full royal court, boasting very elaborate costumes and much pageantry.

In Biloxi, the queen is named Queen Ixolib (which is Biloxi backwards if you missed that) and the king is King D'Iberville, named after the French explorer, Pierre Le Moyne, Sieu d'Iberville, who established a settlement at old Biloxi (now Ocean Springs) in 1699 when looking for the Mississippi Sound.

Colorful floats - often designed and built by Blaine Kern of New Orleans, and truck floats, generally sponsored by local businesses, are loaded down with masked and costumed party revelers who throw loads of beads, plastic cups, doubloons, candy, stuffed animals, panties (yes, panties but not their panties) and other trinkets called "throws" out to people who are lined up all along the parade routes. If you happen to know somebody on a float and they happen to spot you along the parade route, it is tradition that you will definitely get bombed with bags and bags of beads and other trinkets, which will bring much delight to those around you!

It is traditional to kick off Mardi Gras season with a king cake. How does a Mardi Gras King Cake with Pecan Praline Filling sound to you?

Laissez les bons temps rouler!
{Let the good times roll!}



  1. Wow I learned a lot in this post! I did not know anything about Mardi Gras before. I also thought it was just the debauchery that you explained. I feel so informed right now! It feels kinda good! :) And yes, that cake sounds absolutely delicious!

  2. What a great post! I may have to bring a little of Mardi Gras fun to Nashville this year :)

  3. What a marvelous post! I love to learn things when I browse the blogs of friens.

  4. I just commented on the king cake, but now I'm further enlightened. Thanks for sharing this, Mary! You're right, my image of Mardi Gras was all about the booze and the beads. Hope you have a wonderful carnival season : )

  5. Looks fun! Maybe someday I'll get to experience it!


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